This week, the sad news came out that Marcus Smart's mother has cancer and that Erin Popovich, wife of the Spurs' President and Head Coach, had passed away. With both, an outpouring of online condolences, praying hand emojis, and promises to pray followed. Anyone who spends time online knows what this looks like.
I rarely comment on particularly sad news about celebrities, even the ones I follow closely. The simple reality is that they don't know me and I barely know them. They don't follow me and don't, have never, and almost certainly will never, read anything I've written. I didn't know Erin Popovich's first name before yesterday. I don't even know the names of Brad Stevens' and Danny Ainge's wives.
The only comment I did make, which is probably a good indication of why I don't normally comment on these things at all, is that she must have been a very good person because Greg Popovich is a good person, so it's hard to believe he would have been married to someone bad for that long, and pretty awesome, because Coach Popovich is kind of a surly dick, so she must have had an abundance of patience and a good sense of humor to put up with him.
Some people took offense to this, but I think if you asked Greg Popovich to describe himself (and he actually agreed to do it) that "kind of a surly dick" would come up pretty quickly. I don't think it's an insult so much as an accurate description of a personality trait that he's carefully cultivated in front of millions of people for decades. He clearly revels in it, so I'm not sure how insulting it could be.
Therein lies the problem, though. I don't know Erin Popovich in any way other than through the prism of her husband, and don't know him through anything other than the prism of television. Many thousands of people who I don't know at all suffer tragedies every day and I don't know any of them, either, and so don't make any comment about it because I literally don't know that anything happened. I barely know more than nothing about the circumstances of Erin Popovich's life, personality, or passing.
The online outflow of condolences is ultimately a thing that happens to make people feel better about themselves. There's no heartfelt communication to the actual person who is impacted. We're just letting the other people we interact with know the sad news, and tacking on a thing to let them know how good of people we are in the process. There's no call to action like may occur after large-scale tragedies that shock the system. Maybe some people donated to the charities of Smart or Popovich. It's just a thing "we" do before moving on.
My main lesson from years of being online and seeing unfortunate events disseminate like this is that, if a person who has really meant something to me suffers a tragedy, even if they don't know me from Adam, I should remember to skip the online comments and just write them a letter. Maybe they'll never read it, but at least then I'll know who I'm talking to, and what I want to say.